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Profile: James Speed
James Speed was a participant or observer in the following events:
During the Civil War, some 13,000 soldiers and civilians are tried before 5,000 military commissions. Among them are eight civilians with ties to the Confederacy. President Andrew Johnson, President Lincoln’s successor, signs the order for the commissions based on the recommendation of Attorney General James Speed, who argues that Lincoln’s assassination was an act of war against the US’s commander in chief. Historian Edward Steers will later argue that Johnson wants a military trial to avoid a jury of potential Confederate sympathizers drawn from the Washington, DC, populace. A panel of seven generals and two colonels finds all eight of the civilians with Confederate ties guilty of conspiring to assassinate Lincoln. Four are executed and four are jailed for lengthy prison terms. The proceedings are swift; the hangings take place less than three months after Lincoln’s assassination. Historian James Hall will later say of the commissions: “That’s the beauty of the thing… from the government’s perspective. Things move quickly, and from a legal standpoint it’s all self-contained.” [USA Today, 11/15/2001]
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